Whether it’s onboarding a new client or addressing issues with an existing client’s site, there are some tactics that we turn to when it comes to diagnosing and assessing websites.
Of course, there are many tools out there that can help you to keep on top of any potential issues, uncovering problems before they develop and flagging things that could be holding back your site. We use a combination of SEMrush, Screaming Frog and Lumar (formerly Deepcrawl) to keep on top of our client’s website performance, running monthly crawls and scans to make sure there is nothing we have missed.
Sometimes, however, we need to take a deeper dive.
An SEO audit is a great way to investigate how a website is performing. It provides a comprehensive analysis of your website and how it is ranking in the search results (SERPs). All the tools we listed above will provide recommendations about where improvements can be made, which can be technical updates or changes to your content.
There are some key elements that we look at when we conduct an SEO audit. These are the primary factors that usually hold a website back from ranking better in the SERPs and driving more organic traffic.
Some of the key factors we look out for include:
- Page speed and core web vital metrics
- Content gaps
- Technical SEO issues that impact indexing
- Competitor analysis
- UX analysis and conversion rate optimisation opportunities
Page speed sits at the top of our list and we have found over the past few years that this is one of the biggest battles we have. Site speed and individual page load speed are so important, both from a UX perspective and also from an SEO perspective.
Today, we live in a world where people expect instant gratification. Remember the days when you used to have to wait a week to watch the next episode of your favourite show rather than binge-watched the entire series in a weekend? Millennials and Gen Zs don’t really know what this feels like. Even when they do have to wait a week for the next episode of their favourite show, such as the recently concluded House of the Dragon, many will choose to wait until all the episodes have been released before starting their journey.
In a world that expects everything on demand, a slow-loading website simply won’t cut the mustard.
Most websites we work on could improve some aspects of their page speed, as well as address at least one of the three core web vitals. I suspect many other agencies face the same battle.
Making a great first impression is so important today and that’s why page speed sits at the top of our auditing checklist above.
Why do we need an SEO audit?
For the majority of our clients, organic traffic is their biggest source of traffic to their website. This makes it one of, if not the most important digital marketing platform for their business.
People need to be able to find you online and when they do, you need to deliver a great experience. Your pages need to load quickly, your content needs to match their search needs and you need to do all of this while looking great at the same time!
When it comes to the frequency of carrying out an SEO audit, no time is a bad time. We conduct regular monthly auditing of our client’s websites that we supplement with more in-depth quarterly or half-yearly audits that go into more depth, depending on the size of the site. There are other indicators that we might need to conduct an SEO audit outside of these timeframes however and these include:
- Organic traffic drops or a drop in the conversion rate
- Keyword ranking drops
- High bounce rates (although this is page specific)
- Website migration or new website launch
If we spot any of the above in our monthly reporting, we may choose to go deeper on our monthly audits, analysing something specific relating to the problems we are seeing.
Our go-to SEO audit actions
Having spent years working in SEO, there are some things that never change. Whilst SEO is very much a changing industry, there are some staple actions that seem to be present in almost every SEO audit we carry out.
We call these our go-to’s.
These are actions that we have found can make a real difference to our client’s rankings or maybe to their conversions and these are usually the first things we look at as part of the auditing process.
Page Load Times
We have already talked about the importance of a fast-loading site so if we are seeing issues with rankings or a high bounce rate, we will immediately take a look at the page load speed times.
Slower load times can lead to a high bounce rate, poor conversion rate and ultimately, poor visibility in the SERPs.
Ever since page load speed became a ranking factor, this has been even more crucial as part of an SEO audit. We typically use PageSpeed Insights to run a performance analysis, or through Inspect, we might look at the Lighthouse results for an individual page.
At scale, we use the PageSpeed Insights API with Screaming Frog to analyse the page load speeds across an entire site.
Typically, the issues we are seeing that cause slow page load speeds are similar. These are some of the most common:
- Images not sized properly
- Large images loading that are offscreen
- Render-blocking resources including JS
- Unused JS and CSS
- Not setting explicit height and width of images
- Not compressing images
- Not having an efficient caching policy
All of these issues can be addressed, especially those relating to images and we have found that education about why images need to be sized and compressed for the space that they will be displayed is the best way to manage this moving forward.
Too many website owners and editors simply add an original image to a website with no optimisation and then pull that into various parts of the site, not understanding the knock-on effect on page load speed.
Page titles and meta descriptions
One of our regular monthly tasks for a number of clients is testing page title and meta description variations to see which ones deliver the best results.
Page titles are still one of the most important ranking factors and something that can be easily tested and changed for most website owners.
Optimising your page title for the most valuable target keywords is a great way of pointing a clear signal to Google and your users about the content on the page.
One thing that has become more important recently is to check that the page title and meta description that you are setting is the same as what is being displayed in the SERPs. Google has taken to rewriting page titles and meta descriptions and it is important to keep on top of these.
We use Stat to monitor the page titles that have been set for a page versus those that are displayed and we use this to help us to tweak our titles and descriptions to make sure we are maximising our optimisation opportunities.
Over the past few years, we have found ourselves creating more and more content for our clients. This, in the main, is great. Every now and then, however, we do create a piece of content that ends up competing with another for a keyword or set of keywords.
This can be damaging, especially if you already have a page that is ranking well for a particular query and then a new page comes along and confuses Google.
Rather than seeing this as an issue, we often see it as an opportunity. In most cases, the second piece of content is not the same as the first. It just happens to be on a similar topic so it targets similar keywords. When we detect cannibalisation of keywords, we asses the strength of each of the pages and either a) redirect the weaker page to the strongest or b) look to combine the pages into a more in-depth article on the topic, hopefully picking up some more topically relevant keywords along the way.
Issues with content indexing can happen for a variety of reasons and there aren’t many websites that don’t have at least one or two issues with content that either should or shouldn’t be in the index.
The most common issues that lead to problems with indexing include:
- 404 missing page errors
- 500 server errors
- Duplicate content
- Redirect chains
Whilst our auditing tools will flag issues with indexing, we also like to use Google Search Console to verify the issues, inspecting individual URLs to find out their status and analyse any potential issues.
Most of these issues can be easily rectified, helping to clean up the overall performance of the website and point positive signals to Google about the quality of your website, ultimately helping you to rank better.
Optimise your content for identified keywords
Sometimes a website can be technically well built, fast loading and provide a great user experience, and still drive little to no organic traffic.
When this happens, it’s usually because the content on the site is not optimised for the right keywords.
Keyword research is an essential part of any SEO auditing process and forms the basis of your content recommendations and optimisation. A keyword research exercise should uncover keywords and clusters of keywords that are highly relevant to your business or your client’s business.
From there, it’s your job to optimise the content on your website for the keywords you have identified.
Of course, identification of the right keywords is the first part of the journey and we use tools like Google Keyword Planner and SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool to uncover opportunities for our clients.
We also conduct competitor analysis to uncover potential opportunities and gaps, mapping the keywords to any existing content on the website and identifying where new pages need to be created.
Growing your organic traffic is not going to happen overnight. We have found that it takes time, however, getting the basics right means you have a much better chance of seeing improved ranking much quicker.
On top of the go-to tactics above, other things to consider once you have ticked those off your list include:
- A competitor audit – check in and see how your competitors are performing. How are they ranking for the keywords you are targeting? Do they rank for keywords that you don’t? How often are they publishing content? Which sites are linking to them? How fast is their website? Is it mobile-friendly? Knowing as much as you can about your competitors can really help to focus your own strategy on the tactics that will make the biggest impact.
- A content audit – auditing your own content is a valuable tactic, helping to refine your content, minimise keyword cannibalisation and ensure you are meeting the needs of your visitors. It can help to identify gaps in your content or help with internal linking when you realise you have lots of posts about a similar topic that are not currently linked for example.
Keeping on top of your SEO strategy means planning your tasks, making sure audits get carried out on a regular basis and monitoring your progress. The more you can measure, the more you can report on the impact of your changes so test and measure everything you change to allow you to showcase the ROI of the work you are doing.